While my deep and abiding love for fairy tales stems from an overexposure to the more obscure titles, I’m aware that this isn’t the norm for others. Even other writers. (Trust me, I get that look a lot.) So before I go diving into some of the lesser-known stories, I want to make sure we hit one of my favorite cross-overs.
Because any love story epic enough to merit three thousand years of continual publication is worth studying—both as a reader, and as a writer.
Now, the story of Ruth could be classified as history, or mythology (by cynics, NOT by me), or even a fairy tale (though that does stretch the definition a lot), but most importantly it is a model. As such, the more we study it, the bigger it gets. Unfold the story one way, and powerful storytelling tools are unlocked. Unfold it another, and deep symbolism changes your outlook on life. And while I promised myself I wouldn’t reprint the entirety of any story in these entries (how boring would that be—taking all the fun out of your research?), the crucial points of the plot will be covered a time or two. In an effort to keep my nattering to a minimum, I’ll start with a practical application of a model breakdown first. We’ll save archetype analysis for next week. (Yes, if I’m going to slice into an entire story in one sitting, I’ll only subject you to one such post in a week.)
Oh, and links. Here is my two-bit summary. And here is a link to the full text of the story. (For those of you who don’t know the Bible well, Ruth is only 4 short chapters. It’s not overwhelming.)
Model introduction – The cast of characters, and the questions they face.
Ruth – young, widowed, and a foreigner. Agreeing to marry a Jew in voluntary exile is one thing, but her decision to follow his widowed mother back to her homeland (and there die, a foreigner) marks her as girl of great courage and commitment. Fabulous protagonist.
Naomi – old, widowed, and emptied of dreams. She followed her husband into Moab, she watched her sons marry foreigners, and now her last wish is to return to her homeland and be no more. The distraction of being loved by girl who insists on chasing Naomi’s God doesn’t cheer Naomi up any. Excellent dynamic character.
Both women face a long, hard journey. For Ruth, what kind of life can she lead as a servant to a poor, bitter widow? For Naomi, what hope can she find in a world where everyone she has loved is dead?
Model rising action – The events that lead the reader to have certain expectations.
The villagers – Everyone remembers Naomi and her family. Naomi discourages this as much as she can, wanting to be left to die, but they welcome her back. And the young foreigner of tremendous character. (For surely no weak girl would choose to serve a cranky old woman.)
The work – Naomi may once have been a woman of property, and Ruth may have once been the daughter and wife of reasonably wealthy city men, but their only sustenance in Bethlehem will come from whatever work Ruth can find. Throwing away her pride, Ruth follows the other poor people out into the fields.
The prince – Boaz singles Ruth out for attention on her first day. His servants all have good things to say about her, as do the village gossips, but this doesn’t account for his kindness and help. Ruth would have to be dead inside NOT to notice, and even Naomi abandons her sourness to test Ruth’s young heart. Being both modest and honest, Ruth sets to work in Boaz’s fields. She accepts the explanation that he is a close relative, but neither the characters nor the readers think Boaz pays this much attention to every widow in his fields.
The awakening – not of Ruth’s resilient heart, but of Naomi’s old one. As Naomi recovers her joyful spirit, the first thing she does is arrange a match between Ruth and Boaz. The daughter Naomi never had—or imagined she would want—has come so far and sacrificed so much for her. Foreign though she may be, Ruth has become family and is entitled to whatever Naomi can do to help. And what better help than to marry her off to a generous, wealthy relative who has the good sense to treat Ruth well?
Model climax – The crux of the story, where fate and free will are decided.
The proposal – It’s one thing for Ruth to say “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am” to her mother-in-law. It’s another entirely to sneak onto a threshing floor in the middle of the night and ask someone above your station to marry you! Ruth’s courage proves equal to the task, though she is fortunate that Boaz understands her errand so quickly.
The problem – The law, the law. Boaz could brush aside the fact that there was a closer cousin. But he doesn’t. He could disparage this situation—or verbalize a wish to keep Ruth to himself. But he doesn’t. Oh, what pins and needles Ruth must be on, to discover that she has proposed marriage to a man who isn’t free to say yes. How do men stand it?
Model falling action – The consequences of the climax and any decisions made.
At home – Ruth hurries back to Naomi, full of strange news. Naomi knows the law, but she had not underestimated the character of either Ruth or Boaz. And, Naomi correctly interprets Boaz’s parting gift to Ruth. Full bride price. Boaz might not have spoken his commitment on the threshing floor, but she is able to reassure Ruth that his intentions match their hopes.
At the gate – Boaz wastes no time in bringing his kinsman and the matter of Ruth to court. Both men know the law (that relatives have a responsibility to buy back land), but only Boaz knows young Ruth. The other relative refuses—on the grounds of endangering his inheritance. (This might have been because he was a Levite (who could not marry widows), or because the Year of Jubilee was approaching (when property was to be returned), or because Ruth was a foreigner (curses and laws against that).) Boaz, being a true kinsman-redeemer, would risk all these things for Ruth. Not for her mother-in-law’s land, but for her. (For those who love research, Boaz already had foreign blood floating in his gene pool. Check out Matthew 1.)
Model resolution – Is there such a thing as “happily ever after?”
Quick wedding – While not precisely a hasty ceremony, Boaz makes his marriage legal and official the moment he is free to do so—that very morning. Wonderfully enough, none of the village look suspiciously on this. The elders offer blessings and prayers, as glad as the village women to have Naomi and her family restored to safety. Since Ruth is as much a part of Naomi’s family as the lady’s husband or sons had been, Naomi gains some welcome additions to her family, instead of losing her newfound daughter.
Blessed birth – Tradition at the time demanded that the firstborn son of a marriage like Ruth and Boaz’s (kinsman-redeemer) be named after the bride’s first husband. (This would ensure rightful inheritance.) Seeing the devotion and close affection between Naomi and her foster-family, however, the village women make Ruth and Boaz’s son Naomi’s grandson—blessing grandmother, mother, and child for the life they have given the law. (Not only dedication, duty, and obedience, but also passion, patience, and hope.) Baby Obed, grandfather to the future King David, is given back to the woman who brought faithful Ruth to generous Boaz.
Models are rare in the fairy tale world. And all the more wonderful for it.
Where do you find your models...?